Industrial History: Tanneries and Pollution of the Aberjona River

Since the early 1700s, the valley of the Aberjona River has been the home of dozens of tanneries and piggeries. The Riley Tannery and a few others were the only ones to economically survive into the middle of the 20th century. Piggeries existed in the area of wells G and H even in the 1960s.

The black and white photographs below came from part of the 1922 Pollution Survey of the Aberjona River conducted by the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife in Westboro, Massachusetts (Massachusetts 1922 ). The photographic report contains 170 annotated photographs from the 1921-1922 field surveys that document the extensive pollution of the Aberjona River. The color photographs came from the M.S. thesis of Fred DeFeo, an engineering student at Tufts University (DeFeo, 1971 ).

What these photographs show is typical of land usage prior to environmental awakening in the 1970s. What the photographs imply is the the quality of water flowing in the Aberjona River when municipal wells G and H were operating was anything but pristine.

Pollution along the Aberjona River

Field team begins winter survey
Black, tarry, sediment lining many tributary streambeds
Debris and other wastes choke streams
Debris and other wastes choke streams
Decaying barrels near an Aberjona tributary

The old Woburn dump (circa 1965) upstream of wells G and H
The new improved Woburn dump (circa 1971) also upstream of wells G and H

Tanneries in northern Woburn

Exterior of the Algonquin Tannery near the Aberjona River
Covered flume at Algonquin Tannery
Outfall drains to Willow Brook at Algonquin Tannery
Wooden flumes at Algonquin Tannery

Exterior of Buckman Tannery
Beam house at Buckman Tannery
Outfall drains at Buckman Tannery
Settling basin at Buckman Tannery

Piggeries along floodplain of the Aberjona River

Piggery near the Aberjona River
Pigs on an Aberjona River piggery
Runoff from a piggery into the Aberjona River